The pronghorn, the fastest land
animal in North America, has been dashing over the lands between Wyoming’s
Grand Teton National Park and the Upper Green River Basin for millennia. And thanks
to previous conservation efforts by WCS and our partners, this ancient “Path of
the Pronghorn” was the first federally protected wildlife migration corridor in
the United States.
Still, the journey along this
almost 100-mile route isn’t a walk in the park. Even at speeds of up to 65 miles per
hour, these antelope can’t always outrun the predators, oil and natural gas
development, and other migration obstacles that they encounter. So WCS and
government biologists are embarking on a huge study to evaluate how the
pronghorn are faring during their seasonal travels.
“Grand Teton National Park’s
pronghorn spend half the year outside the boundaries of the national park, and
the threats they encounter could influence their long-term viability,” said
Steve Cain, a senior wildlife biologist for the park. “The data collected in
this study will provide public and private land managers with information
critical for making decisions that enhance conservation of this herd, outside
of the park as well as inside.”
In the early 1800s, around 35
million pronghorn roamed the West. Today, just 700,000 remain. Wyoming is home to most of them, but many also live in Idaho.
“Globally, most national parks are
not large enough to protect ecological phenomena such as migration.
Demonstrating the ability to maintain this process in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and in Grand Teton National Park can be a model for other species and
parks in similar situations across the planet,” said WCS scientist Jon
Already, 30 pronghorn that were
summering in Grand Teton National Park and the nearby Gros Ventre River
drainage are readying for their long trip, and wearing GPS radio collars. When the pronghorn leave for their
wintering grounds, the collars will send the scientists valuable data on the
animals’ whereabouts, their traveling habits, and whether or not they make it
to their migratory destinations over the next three years.
The research will also take a new
look at the travelers the pronghorn meet along the way—namely wolves and
coyotes. With the recent reintroduction of gray wolves to the southern
section of Grand Teton, the relationships between wolves, coyotes,
and pronghorn are changing. For instance, coyotes
often prey upon pronghorn fawns, but these predators now face competition for
food, and maybe even danger to themselves, from the wolves. By examining the species'
population densities and how the various groups of animals are
responding to the changes within the others, the conservationists will be able
to better understand the ecosystems that the pronghorns are passing through.
“The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
contains unparalleled wildlife resources, and we need to understand the
important influences on the system to preserve Wyoming’s world class wildlife
heritage,” said Regional Supervisor Tim Fuchs for the Wyoming Game and Fish
Department. “The status of the pronghorn
in western Wyoming may serve as a case study for
other parks around the world as conservation scientists and land managers
continue to identify the benefits and limitations of parks created with the
intention of conserving the wildlife within their boundaries.”
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